One of the most frustrating things about being a woman who cares about pop culture is that pop culture almost never has any goddamn women in it. I mean, yeah, there are lady-shaped thingies who move and talk and have stuff done to them, but the dearth of female directors and writers (and men who know how to credibly write female characters) is so vast that relatively few believable, flesh-and-blood, human women seem to make it to the screen. That's what happens when you rely on tropes and lazy signaling instead of actual characterization.
The Atlantic took a look at one of the most common shallow-female-character tropes—the old "freaked out gal cuts all her hair off in the bathroom because OH MY GOD, LADY-STRESS." We've seen this shit a million times (which also got me wondering—what's the male equivalent? Is there one, even? Angry tattoo? Boxing kangaroo on the left calf? Please advise).
After giving credit to the effectiveness of unhinged hair-chopping in Girls and Mad Men, Casey Quinlan takes Aaron Sorkin to task:
...On The Newsroom, however, the haircut is a sign of shallow female character-writing. Maggie conveys her traumatic experience in an outwardly emotional, almost adolescent, manner. She doesn't brood and let her emotions fester, or release them in angry, insightful rants. She simply cuts and dyes her hair, looking sullen the whole time. This is emblematic of Sorkin's treatment of female characters on the show in general: They look incompetent or emotional, if not both.
But even when a dramatic haircut is done well, as it is on Girls and Mad Men, it still sends a troubling message: It seems to confirm that a woman's value lies in how she looks, and that only psychological instability would cause her to make a drastic change in her physical appearance.
That's not to say that there aren't women who've cut their hair off to externalize some inner turmoil—I'm sure there are lots! It's a legit thing to do!—but there are also a billion gals who just DIYed a pixie cut because, idk, their heads were hot or something. Or they thought it'd look cute. Sometimes a haircut is just a series of cuts that we make to our hair! But by throwing this trope around so carelessly and incessantly, TV shows and movies telegraph one thing for sure: The only way a woman could possibly express the depths of her despair is to physically demonstrate that she doesn't even have the will to conform to basic beauty standards. Quelle horreur, etc.
This shit is getting hacky. But don't worry, Hollywood—I'm here to help. As a woman who's experienced a few knockdown tragedies and periods of emotional disaster over the past 31 years—without ever once giving myself a Dorothy Hamill with the kitchen shears—I've got a few suggestions for new distraught-female-character-you-didn't-bother-to-flesh-out tropes. You're welcome! Send me money!
Things I—Lindy West, a Real Woman—Am More Likely to Do When Emotionally Distraught Than Chop All My Hair Off (Based on Original Research)
Forget that I have hair entirely. Also forget what shampoo is. Also forget to open my eyes and sit upright and form words all the way with my mouth.
Drag my greasy head to the hairdresser. I might be a no-bra garbage sack, but at least I have these LUSTROUS HIGHLIGHTS.
Force my hairdresser to go to the coffee shop with me so I can tell her everything that's ever happened to me in slow motion while eating whipped cream.
Drive to the grocery store just SCREAMING AND SCREAMING.
The screaming is some melodramatic shit like, "WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYEEEEE???"
Cry at the grocery store.
Cry while watching AT&T commercials.
Cry while sleeping because I multitask, y'all.
Angrily stare at phone waiting for people to call and ask if I'm okay.
Ignore all phone calls.
Induce Xanax amnesia.
Compulsive step aerobics.
Maybe I do need a leopard print caftan.
Crush hella Gardettos.
Crush zero Gardettos or any other food for days and days until I turn into the Witch-King of Angmar in a Garfield nightshirt.
Become one with my Garfield nightshirt.
Paint my face like a scarlet woman and show everyone my petticoats.
Two mani-pedis in one week.
Shot of Jager and a double G&T.
Yelling all my secrets.
Trying not to yell other people's secrets.
HOW DID I NOT REALIZE THAT I HAD SO MANY BEST FRIENDS AT THIS BAR OMG WE HAVE SO MUCH IN COMMON LET'S HANG OUT EVERY DAY HEY DID I TELL YOU WHAT MY BOYFRIEND DID TO ME
Never speaking to any of my new "best friends" from the bar ever again—or at least until the next day. (I call those "night friends.")
Ten seasons of Degrassi: The Next Generation without once going outside the apartment.